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Whitsun in “The Green Hell”

Paul Truswell reviews the race results of a 24 hour race that was interrupted by heavy rain, but still provided plenty of entertainment

The Nürburgring 24 hours had all the makings of a great race, but for me was somehow spoiled by the need to suspend the race through most of the night hours. Not that I for a moment take issue with the decision of race director Walter Hornung, who really had no other option. With the rain pouring down and low cloud enveloping the circuit and making visibility a real problem; and no respite in the forecast, most drivers agreed that it was the correct thing to do.

Dawn broke to continuing rain, and despite the expectations of many, it became clear that the organisers were intent on restarting the race. The grid formed up in the positions as they stood at the completion of lap 34, and sure enough, at 8am, the pace car set off to lead the cars around for a formation lap, which would count as the 35th lap of the race. The period of interruption (all 9h 40m of it) would be regarded as a ‘safety car intervention’, we were told, and after completing its lap, the safety car pulled off, the green flag was waved and we were racing again.

The good thing was that, unlike in 2007, when the race had to be stopped because of fog, we would not have a two-part, ‘aggregate’ race: what you saw on the track would be the positions in the race. The only correction would be the four minutes and six minutes time credit given to the cars that started in start groups two and three respectively.

There was some debate, as there always is in such cases, about the positions for the restart. This was not helped by some confusing displays appearing on the timing screens, while various matters were sorted out. The red flag was displayed at 22:44, at which time the 007 Aston Martin that had been leading the race was on its out lap following a routine pit stop. It wasn’t the only one. The no. 18 Manthey Porsche, the no. 26 Team Marc VDS BMW and the no. 1 Phoenix Audi were also on their first lap out of the pits. Had the race not been stopped, the lead would have been taken by Olaf Manthey’s GT3 Porsche, the no. 50 car, which was a lap longer into its stint and, along with its sister car, was looking very strong indeed.

The regulations require that the result of a race that is red-flagged is taken at the last racing lap not affected by the red flag though, so an interim result was issued at 34 laps (the lap on which the Aston made its pit stop). At that point, fifteen cars were on the lead lap:

Nürburgring 24 hours - Interim Result at Red Flag
Pos.Car NoCarTime for 34 lapsNo. of pit stops
17Aston Martin 0075h 33m 00.505s5
218Manthey Porsche GTE5h 33m 12.903s4
326Team Marc VDS BMW Z45h 34m 23.256s5
41Stuck Phoenix Audi5h 34m 24.983s4
525Team Marc VDS BMW Z45h 34m 28.993s5
650Manthey Porsche GT35h 35m 03.776s4
729Team WRT Battlefield Audi5h 35m 31.369s4
844Falken Motorsports Porsche5h 35m 53.311s4
923Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS5h 36m 42.100s6
1022Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS5h 37m 34.931s5
113G-Drive Phoenix Audi5h 37m 52.609s4
124Stuck Phoenix Audi5h 37m 54.177s4
139Black Falcon Mercedes SLS5h 38m 27.496s5
1421Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS5h 41m 42.127s6
1520Team Schubert BMW Z45h 43m 32.314s5

With not one of the top six wearing the three-pointed star, you would probably have got good odds on a wager that three of the top four cars at the 24 hour mark would be from Mercedes-Benz. But, after more than nine hours in the garages, and as appalling conditions gave way to merely atrocious, the track eventually dried out altogether to allow racing at lap record pace, and so the SLS AMG GT3 cars established themselves at the front.

Personally, I am not a fan of aggregate races, even though timing screens these days make them much easier to follow. (I was at Brands Hatch for the 1,000kms in 1982, when Teo Fabi in the Lancia had to finish ahead of Jacky Ickx in his Porsche by more than 6.3s in order to win the race. For the average spectator in the grandstand, knowing whether 6.3s represented the distance to Clearways or to Stirling’s was not easy.)

So I was pleased that the organisers opted for the quasi-safety car period, even if it gave the teams the opportunity to work all night to prepare their cars for the restart. But I just could not resist looking at what might have been, had the decision been taken to make it a two-part race, based on the aggregate of the first 34 laps and the remaining 53.

Nürburgring 24 hours - Aggregate Result of hypothetical 'two-part race'
Pos.Car NoCarTime for part 1 Time for part 2 Aggregate time
125Team Marc VDS BMW Z45h 34m 28.993s8h 39m 15.242s14h 13m 44.235s
29Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 5h 38m 27.496s8h 36m 16.107s14h 14m 43.603s
31G-Drive Phoenix Audi R8 LMS5h 34m 24.983s8h 41m 26.592s14h 15m 51.575s
423Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS5h 36m 42.100s8h 41m 00.149s14h 17m 42.249s
522Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS5h 37m 34.931s8h 40m 59.680s14h 18m 34.611s
618Manthey Porsche GTE5h 33m 12.903s8h 45m 55.588s14h 19m 08.491s

A different winner, and three different makes on the podium. Of course, it is entirely possible that Sean Edwards and Bernd Schneider, if they would have had to, could have caught up that one minute deficit, but it is not by any means clear.

At 88 laps, it was the shortest (in distance terms) 24 hour race ever held at the Nürburgring. Within those 88 laps, though we had eight different cars in the lead, and fourteen changes of lead.

Nürburgring 24 hours - Lap Leaders
Car NoCarFrom LapTo LapLaps led
4Stuck Phoenix Audi11313
7Aston Martin 00714141
4Stuck Phoenix Audi15173
7Aston Martin 00718236
1G-Drive Phoenix Audi24252
18Manthey Porsche GTE26261
7Aston Martin 00727Red Flag8
7Aston Martin 007Green Flag351
25Team Marc VDS BMW36438
44Falken Motorsports Porsche44441
23Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS45506
25Team Marc VDS BMW51522
1G-Drive Phoenix Audi53531
9Black Falcon Mercedes SLS54563
23Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS57626
9Black Falcon Mercedes SLS638826
 
Nürburgring 24 hours - Leader Summary
NoCar NoCarLaps led
14Stuck Phoenix Audi16
27Aston Martin 00716
31G-Drive Phoenix Audi3
418Manthey Porsche GTE1
525Team Marc VDS BMW10
644Falken Motorsports Porsche1
723Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS12
89Black Falcon Mercedes SLS29

Finally, although I have not been able (yet) to acquire information about time spent in the pits, I do have the laps upon which the leaders came into the pits, and hence can look at the number of laps that cars were able to complete between stops. Although the changeable weather meant that stops were not always purely for fuel, none of the top ten cars had any unscheduled repair work to carry out, as far as I could see. The following table shows the number of laps completed in each stint for the three top Mercedes (no. 9 from the Black Falcon team, and nos. 22 and 23 from Rowe Racing), the Team Marc VDS BMW (no. 25), the Phoenix Audi (no. 1) and the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 (007).

Nürburgring 24 hours - Analysis of stints: number of laps completed
Stint No.925222317
1885698
2889498
3987688
4125892
55682RED9
6REDREDRED79RED
79910RED1010
8696938
9763793
10888499
11889859
1386896
148
151

There are a number of interesting conclusions that can be drawn from this table. Firstly, the Phoenix Audi seems to be the only car that regularly managed 9 laps in the dry - this is comparable with last year's race, when nearly all of the leading runners from Audi, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes did 9 laps per stint. Secondly, and contrary to my opinion at the time, the Aston Martin was no less fuel efficient than any of the other leading GT3 runners. Thirdly, in the early morning, after the interruption, when track conditions were very wet, Mercedes, Audi and Aston Martin were all able to eke out 10 laps - an indication of how careful the drivers were having to be. Fourthly, the Rowe Racing cars seemed to have their strategy compromised by some external factor - pitting early on at the start of the race, and bringing the no. 22 car in on its penultimate lap, when logic suggests it should have managed to make it to the end of the race without a further stop.

Overall, and despite what some of the numbers shown here might indicate, the Black Falcon team deserved their win, and so especially did Bernd Schneider and Sean Edwards. I wonder what would have happened though, if we would have had a race through the night? Far less than the 137 finishers of the 173 that started, that's for sure!

Paul Truswell